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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 20.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Gossip turn down the synths and crank up the guitars at the Majestic Theatre
Gossip's Beth Ditto sings with power and passion.
Gossip's Beth Ditto sings with power and passion.
Credit:Mike Noto

Gossip have received mixed reviews for their latest album, A Joyful Noise, which flirts heavily with Europop and synthpop while dropping much of the rock their fans are used to hearing. But rock was definitely present at last night's concert at the Majestic Theatre, even if the subversively political band's garage-rock past was only accounted for once.

Their music gained loads of muscle and style live. This was even true of songs such as "Perfect World," which sound like slick, synth-led dance pop in the studio. De-emphasizing the synthesizers was a smart choice. It helped the band highlight the rock side of the energetic dance-rock that's been their specialty since 2006.

Singer Beth Ditto was predictably great, sporting her immensely powerful voice with confidence. Hannah Blilie, the band's secret weapon, contributed a very solid, strong and funky performance on drums. Playing to an adoring crowd, the band, which included touring members Chris Sutton on bass and Katy Davidson on keyboards and guitar, plowed through many of their best-known songs with verve and passion, from "Heavy Cross" and "Four Letter Word" to "Listen Up!" and "Standing In The Way of Control."

Ditto declared her love for the Majestic at one point, then ended the show alone with a seven-minute talk about politics, the importance of the upcoming election and loving one another. Covers of Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" (a hardly recognizable version dedicated to Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail) and Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It" were nice and unexpected tributes. Outside of a bass drum that was almost abusively overloud, there was nothing to complain about and lots to praise.

It's rare for two opening acts to compete neck and neck with the headline act in terms of sheer musical quality, but openers Magic Mouth and Bonnie Montgomery did just that.

Magic Mouth are a Portland band who label themselves online as "post-phunk." In a February interview with PQ Monthly, guitarist Peter Condra claimed that punk was one of the band's biggest influences, but I couldn't hear it at all musically: Their set sounded like funky, passionately performed soul to me. Vocalist Stephfon Bartee, while occasionally guilty of oversinging, possesses an unearthly falsetto, and drummer Ana Briseño is the band's most valuable player, keeping a solid but continually shifting and slippery beat.

Arkansas country artist Bonnie Montgomery was amazing. Her astonishingly strong, operatically trained voice gave Beth Ditto some serious competition in terms of sheer power and melodic command. Accompanied by Gossip guitarist Nathan Howdeshell, she played an electrified honky-tonk set that sounded like that of a rockabilly Patsy Cline. Because of a pre-show technical error, Montgomery's usually acoustic music was rendered with an electric guitar. Montgomery noted that it was the first time she'd ever played her music with an electric onstage, but it only had a beneficial effect on her music, which was driving, loud and wonderful.

Montgomery proved she has songwriting chops with catchy but lyrically hard-edged songs like "Zydeco," "Joy" and the single "Cruel." She also doubled as a cover artist with spirited versions of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Kitty Wells' signature song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." The latter was performed as a campy, immaculately sung duet with Ditto, who may sing country even more naturally than she sings dance music.

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